No other icon epitomizes Las Vegas like the showgirl. While Las Vegas has become known primarily as a gambling resort, in fact its entertainment is as important to its tourist industry as gambling. Las Vegas has, in a sense, lived up to its self-promotion as the entertainment capital of the world. From a venue for New York nightclub shows in the first strip hotels—in which the entertainment director took precedence over the casino boss—Las Vegas has developed a unique and distinctive genre of adult entertainment perhaps most associated with the "Frenchified" showgirl of the Las Vegas shows Lido de Paris and Folies-Bergère, and their spin-offs of headliners, standup comics, and magicians.
The Las Vegas Showgirl, and the shows which exemplified them, have a history all their own. From the distinct theatrical traditions of burlesque, vaudeville, dance and music halls, the French cancan, comic opera and operetta, Broadway, speakeasies and nightclubs, and movies, came a cosmopolitan adult entertainment popular in New York, Hollywood, Paris, Miami Beach, Rio, and ultimately Las Vegas, where it seemed to become a permanent fixture of this town’s almost timeless firmament of entertainment. The Showgirl and The Las Vegas Show survive only in Las Vegas, that time-warp museum of popular culture.
The drawings exhibited here illustrate the shows and productions that epitomize Las Vegas. Nudity is an aspect of the theatrical history of Las Vegas, and it would be a misrepresentation of that history to ignore topless showgirls and their costumes. In the context of this exhibit the object is the costume, not the woman wearing it. The female figures are stylized models whose forms reveal the kinetic and theatrical properties of the costume. This exhibit contains a few topless costumes, primarily from the finale of Donn Arden’s show Jubilee! (still running at Bally’s Hotel), Matt Gregory’s Pony Express, and Harold Minsky’s Thoroughly Modern Minsky. The costumes were selected not because they were topless but because they were integral components of those shows and in many cases are classic showgirl designs. Some viewers may find the inclusion of this material objectionable, but it is presented purely as an artistic representation in the context of documenting stage productions. As the famous Madame Bluebell, who trained and managed thousands of dancers from Paris to Los Angeles, remarked, “Everyone knows our shows are tasteful and wholesome, and no one complains about exploitation. My girls ask to dance topless; it’s their choice.”